The Taliban’s terrifying persecution of LGBT+ people is no longer a horror of the past

Taliban militants gather in Alingar district of Laghman Province, Afghanistan, on 2 March 2020.

As the Taliban completes its takeover of Afghanistan, the country’s LGBT+ community is reportedly fleeing in droves, terrified of what comes next.

Afghanistan may have remained hostile towards LGBT+ people in the 20 years since the Taliban was ousted from power, but those old enough to remember know that the era that preceded it was far, far worse.

The extremist group was notorious for its shockingly cruel corporal punishments for those who didn’t abide by their strict interpretation of Sharia, or Islamic law.

Their reign of terror from 1996 to 2001 saw swathes of brutal amputations, stonings and public executions, often conducted before crowds of thousands in sports fields or stadiums.

But the Taliban saved the worst fate of all for homosexuals.

“If a person commits this sin, it is the work of the devil,” said Mullah Mohammed Ibrahim, an Afghan cleric who spoke to the Los Angeles Times in 2002.

The Koran mandates “hard punishment” for offenders, he explained, and by tradition there were three penalties: being burned at the stake, pushed over the edge of a cliff or crushed by a falling wall.

The latter appears to have been the most common in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, where gay men were routinely crushed or suffocated under heavy walls of mud or bricks, toppled by tanks as crowds of religious zealots looked on.

This brutality was reportedly introduced in 1994 by the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Omar, who is said to have saved a young boy from being raped by two feuding generals in Kandahar.

When the Mullah was subsequently given control of the city he decreed that both violent and mutually consensual sodomy would be capital crimes punishable by death.

Three men in Kandahar were sentenced to this fate in February 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported. Two were accused of sodomy and the third of homosexual rape.

The first two died; the third spent a week in the hospital and, under the assumption that God had spared him, was sent to prison. He served six months and fled to Pakistan.

Taliban promises return of Sharia punishments

Those fleeing the country are right to be afraid, as the Taliban has already promised these horrifying Sharia punishments will soon return.

“That was our goal and always will be,” said Gul Rahim, a Taliban judge who spoke frankly about his vision of justice to the German newspaper Bild last month.

His face remained impassive as he described the horrific deaths awaiting LGBT+ Afghans. “There are only two penalties for gays: Either stoning or he has to stand behind a wall that falls on him. The wall must be 2.5 to 3 meters high,” he said.

No executions of LGBT+ people have been reported by international media since the fall of Kabul on Sunday, but the BBC Afghan service says that Sharia punishments have already been reinstated in many regions.

Speaking to PinkNews, the gay Afghan author Nemat Sadat said there is “no telling” how bad the situation will become for LGBT+ people stuck in the country under Taliban rule.

He fears extremists will “weed out and exterminate” all the queer people they can find, though he predicts this anti-gay purge will take place in secret, “without the world watching”.

“They want to shift public opinion on their side,” he warned.